When you’re looking to vitalize a room with a truly imaginative or offbeat drawing or painting, consider an Exquisite Corpse work from Sotheby’s Home. If you’ve played Mad Libs word games or kids’ collaborative story games, you might already be familiar with the general concept of stringing together random words or phrases to arrive at an amusing composite sentence or story.

Similarly, the Exquisite Corpse collaborative drawing approach creates absurd artwork on a single sheet of paper. During the game, each artist takes a turn drawing part of a picture, folds the paper to conceal what they have drawn in their assigned section, and passes it on to the next artist.

Once all players complete their sections with artistic freedom, the moment of truth arrives when the randomly conceived composition is unveiled in all its nonsensical glory. Sometimes erotic, usually grotesque, always startling, the resulting work never fails to elicit a smile or a gasp.

A typical Exquisite Corpse triptych is a freestyle representation of a human (or non-human) body with the top section containing a head, the middle revealing a torso, and the bottom portion sporting legs and feet (or claws, paws, or hooves). Variations include four-paneled works as well as creature-less “landscape” compositions.

As the story goes, the Exquisite Corpse concept was born in Paris in 1925, when Surrealists André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy (perhaps inspired by libations) devised a game in which each contributed unrelated, random words, presented in the order found. The first sufficiently striking sentence that emerged from the verbal experiment was “Le cadavre/exquis/boira/le vin/nouveau,” or “The exquisite/corpse/will drink/the new/wine.” Soon after, the drawing version of the Exquisite Corpse game picked up speed as artists took a keen liking (read: obsession) to the unconventional pastime that gave rise to unpredictable works of collaborative art.

Left: André Breton, Paul Éluard, Tristan Tzara, and Benjamin Péret (1932). Right: Paul Éluard, André Breton, and Robert Desnos.

Surrealist-in-chief Breton said of the game, “What exalted us in these productions was indeed the conviction that, come what might, they bore the mark of something that could not be begotten by one mind alone…”

Today, Sotheby’s Home is delighted to offer a collection of works, all having been previously exhibited in The Return of the Cadavre Exquis, the 1993 art show that featured more than 600 collaborative drawings from 1,200 international artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, William S. Burroughs, Peter Saul, Laurie Anderson, Helen Marden, Marilyn Minter, Peter Halley, Carroll Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Starn Brothers, Nicole Eisenman, Sue Williams, John Wesley, Steve Wolfe, Jim Shaw, and Leon Golub.

The culmination of a two-year drawing project, the exhibition was organized by The Drawing Center and independent curator Ingrid Schaffner, who initiated the project with artists Kim Jones and Leonard Titzer. Now, art collectors and interior designers have the rare opportunity to “drink the new wine” by acquiring these exceptional Exquisite Corpse drawings, paintings, and collage works.

Left: The Return of the Cadavre Exquis exhibit at The Drawing Center, Nov 06, 1993 — Dec 18, 1993. Right: Original exhibit catalogue cover.

Here, we’ve selected six favorite pieces from The Return of the Cadavre Exquis exhibit, each capable of raising an eyebrow as they complement modern and contemporary décor. Imagine playing a rousing game of Cadavre Exquis in your living room or dining room while one of these enchanting creatures looks on approvingly from its hallowed home on your wall.

Once you browse our menagerie of Exquisite Corpse creatures, you might find yourself dying to buy a Cadavre Exquis drawing or painting to add new life to your space.

Cassandra Lozano, Roy Lichtenstein, Mason Rader (1992)

In the true spirit of the surreal Exquisite Corpse drawing approach, each artist independently completes a section of a sheet which, once unfolded, reveals a spontaneous, collaborative drawing. This example is the by-chance brainchild of Cassandra Lozano, Roy Lichtenstein, and Mason Rader.

Richmond Burton, Jan Frank, Paul Mogenson (1992)
With complete disregard for order, highly collectible Exquisite Corpse art, such as this landscape example by Richmond Burton, Jan Frank, and Paul Mogensen, is capable of surprising and disorienting.
Bill Barrette, John Wesley, Rainer Gross (1992)

Artists Bill Barrett, John Wesley, and Rainer Gross mixed it up to create this fetching Cadavre Exquis, an anatomically incorrect collaboration of will and chance.

Steve Wolfe, Ashley Bickerton, Jan Hashey (1993)

This portrait of Exquisite Corpse originator André Breton, an ultimate homage to the father of Surrealism, was channeled by Steve Wolfe, Ashley Bickerton, and Jan Hashey. “Speak according to the madness that has seduced you,” Breton once said.

Mark Beyer, Charles Burns, Peter Saul (1992)

Underground comic artists Mark Beyer and Charles Burns teamed up with artist Peter Saul to concoct this humorous, unpredictable Cadavre Exquis.

Julie Ault, Cindy Sherman, Mare Tauss (1992)

An Exquisite Corpse collage by Julie Ault, Cindy Sherman, and Marc Tauss gave birth to a rocket-snapshot head, from which grows the body of a card-playing nude, grafted onto a pair of go-nowhere feet.

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